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Nov. 26, 2012

Panel of journalists discuss politics, reporters' vantage point

By Brittney Schmies

On Nov. 15 The Press Club of Cleveland and Cleveland State’s School of Communication brought together a panel of journalists to discuss a “Behind-the-Scenes Exclusive: Journalism, Politics and Elections.” The journalists were at ease and appeared to be enjoying themselves as they fielded questions from the moderator. All participants offered an inside look into something they have a passion for.

The collaboration between The Press Club and School of Communication happened when Cody Peck, an alumnus of Cleveland State, reached out on behalf of the president of The Press Club. They had never held an event at Cleveland State and thought it would be something nice to try, said Dr. George Ray, director of the School of Communication.

“It was a very good discussion,” Ray said. “Yhey were experienced, well informed and had a lot of good things to say. The Press Club was very pleased and would like to come back.”

In just over an hour and 20 minutes the panel gave attendees, mostly journalists and aspiring journalists, an inside look into politics and elections from the vantage point of the reporter.

“What we saw and how we presented that process to our readers, our viewers and our listeners is a paramount importance, not merely to how the election of 2012 is viewed historically, but to how the election and election campaigns will be shaped by what we did this year,” Rick Jackson, host for WCPN and WVIZ/PBS, said in his opening statement.
Jackson set up the course of topics the panel would discuss.

What was seen was especially important to journalists in Ohio due to the near 130 visits from candidates, running mates and spouses made during the campaign in order to win the votes of the widely known swing state. While all coverage was important to the presidential candidates, it seemed that both parties were willing to go the extra mile when dealing with Ohio reporters.

Karen Kasler, Statehouse Bureau Chief, Ohio Public Radio and Television, and Henry Gomez, Plain Dealer reporter, remarked on the amount of one-on-one interviews the candidates gave out to Ohio reporters.

“I think that really underscored their desire to get the message out more to local viewers and listeners and readers,” Gomez said.

President Obama spent a lot of time campaigning in Cuyahoga County, which proved to be blue while Mitt Romney stepped out to other areas such as Lake County, Geauga County and Medina County to gain voters.

Being a Lake County reporter for the News Hereld, John Hutchinson said it was a big deal for Romney to visit the area, but that it was also nice to have President Obama visit Mentor High School since he had first been elected president.

“It was nice to have both presidential candidates come to the area and be able to cover what they were talking about,” Hutchinson said.

The panelists also gave attendees a glimpse of what it takes to be a political reporter, or any kind of reporter, and how to gain respect. Besides having Ohio attached to them, the main point they collectively came up with was forming and maintaining relationships with contacts and remaining visible within your beat or area of interest.

“The way you gain respect is by being visible, being out there, going to the events and campaign visits,” Gomez said. “Being seen, getting out there, showing these people you are dedicated — leaving no stone unturned is the real mechanics of good beat reporting.”

Again, they collectively agreed that it didn’t matter the importance or status of a contact because any relationship would be able to provide information. Forming a relationship with the spokesperson, assistant or secretary will still help come up with information that could lead to the next person who may be of importance.

“I got the chance to speak with Mitt Romney because of my relationship with the Republican spokesperson in Ohio,” Kasler said. “You’ve got to stay as close as you can to these people without being too close. Be fair, be unbiased, truly listen and ask questions.”

Dr. Richard Perloff, a communication professor at Cleveland State and expert in political communication, attended the event and found the inside information of how Ohio reporters were treated to be interesting.

“What particularly stands out were the honest perceptions the reporters offered about covering the election in Ohio, the swing state of swing states,” Perloff said. “It was interesting to learn that candidates gave them star-treatment just because they were from Ohio.”

Social media was a game-changer in the 2012 election. With the popularization of smartphones, Twitter and Facebook, the demand to be first to report something put the pressure on reporters. When everyone is covering the same campaign speech time and time again, it is vital to the reporter to be able to pick up on something maybe no one else heard, and report it first.

“I feel like I’m competing to tweet something first — people are competitive with that,
Gomez said. “They want to find the one interesting nugget someone said in the conference call and be the first one to tweet it and then the first to post it on their website.”

It’s like a long term project that started back in January, Kasler said in reference to covering the election. There is only so much you can report about. You have to keep it going for months and months by finding new angles.
Technology such as Twitter allow reporters to keep up with what is most current or the newest thing about it.

“Twitter to help reporters is amazing — it helps me to see what I missed, if I care and what I’m going to do about it,” Kasler said.

The advancements in technology did not only change how reporters keep up with their information, but how they present it. Being able to shoot their own video, tweet, post a picture or a story from anywhere has changed how reporting is done.

“I’m wearing many different hats, shooting raw video, putting it together, posting and tweeting — everything is so instant now,” Hutchinson said.

The panel’s discussion brought to light a side of elections and politics not really seen. Most people know what is reported, the facts, the statistics and the latest negative comment, but they don’t know about the inside aspects of it. Relationships, interviews, who you know and how you do it are something mostly known only to those doing it. The Press Club of Cleveland opened the doors to explain some of the unknown.

Perloff agreed that what the panel had to offer was insightful and interesting to learn, but felt that a deeper side of the story could have been revealed.

“What was missing was a more critical perspective on campaign reporting,” Perloff said. “We didn't have discussion about mistakes reporters made, things they wished they had done, biases in covering the fabled horse race, whether they felt they overlooked big issues in favor of little, superficial ones, and whether the local media downplayed election coverage, or didn't, in light of economic problems.”

The discussion was moderated by Rick Jackson, the Morning Edition host of 90.3 WCPN, NewsDepth Host at WVIZ/PBS and former CBS News anchor. The panel included Karen Kasler, the Statehouse Bureau Chief, Ohio Public Radio and Television, John Hutchinson, government and political journalist for the News-Herald and Henry Gomez, politics reporter for The Plain Dealer.